A Gift Written and Illustrated by Yong Chen – A PoC and CNY Special

POC Status Update: 2/9

PictureBook Reading Challenge Update: 8 out of 72

Homesick.

That’s how Amy’s mother feels whenever it’s Chinese New Year. She thinks about her brothers and her sister, who live on the other side of the world.

The opening lines of this book has convinced me that this is the perfect book to open our Chinese New Year Special for this week here in GatheringBooks. It is during festivals, celebrations, important occasions when loneliness would most likely seep into the hearts of people who have decided to make a life outside of their native land. In the Author’s Note written at the end of the page, he noted that “Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in the Chinese culture. It is celebrated by Chinese all over the world.”

This book is a testament to that enduring spirit and one’s attempts to recreate a spirit of home (despite being a thousand miles away from loved ones) through home-cooked meals, letters written in beautiful calligraphy, and yes a simple gift sent through the postal mail.

Here, we see the disturbingly vacuous gaze of Amy's mother as she stares off into space

Amy’s mother remembers her two brothers (a farmer and a fisherman) and her sister (a nurse who works in the local hospital) often – but even more keenly during the Chinese New Year. The book was able to effectively straddle these two seemingly disparate worlds through the special letter (and gift) that Amy’s mother received from her siblings in China.

Letter from Amy's uncles and aunt

While the book is not strictly letter-themed, it’s such a pleasure to be able to marry our Chinese New Year Special with our Message in a Bottle theme for January-February, while being our entry to the PoC Reading Challenge and the Picture Book Reading Challenge.

The letter that they received takes Amy and her mother away to a different land altogether:

I simply love the illustrations

It also shares how Amy’s Uncle found a stone and how Ming, another Uncle, was able to see a dragon hidden inside.

Amy's Aunt Mei holding the stone-turned-necklace - a gift for Amy

Through his mind’s eye he was able to craft and fashion this special and rare stone into something that has brought tears to both Amy and her mother’s eyes. I simply love the quiet power of the story in communicating the value of this stone that has traveled a thousand miles bringing with it the love of family and the rich cultural tradition and heritage of one’s roots.

Having lived here in Singapore for the past two and a half years, I can attest to how significant a celebration Chinese New Year is. Almost all the establishments are closed. Fireworks on display. Decorations everywhere. Despite this, I often hear a lot of locals claim that it is an even grander celebration in Hong Kong. That I would have to see for myself. Regardless, I am praying that this week would be a time of togetherness (be it physical or virtual) for families near and far, and a moment for joyful recounting of the blessings shared during the past year.

Yong Chen, the Author/Illustrator of the book was born in China and has started drawing at the young age of four. Currently, he and his family are based in the States. Aside from being a painter, he is also an Art Professor at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. To know more about him and how he feels about painting, click here to be taken to his official website. I also discovered that this book “A Gift” has its own website here. Kung Hei Fat Choi everyone!

3 Comments on A Gift Written and Illustrated by Yong Chen – A PoC and CNY Special

  1. I’m curious, what age group would this work with? Maybe with three year olds?

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    • myragarcesbacsal // January 30, 2011 at 10:19 am // Reply

      Hi Bea! Thanks for visiting. I am a tad wary about age-grouping certain books because I think as we all know there are picture books that have a timeless quality to them – and I suppose the way that the discussion is moderated (by both teachers and parents) could change the quality and age-grouping of the book.

      That being said, I think this book could work with 3-7 year olds. Those who are older (7-9) may be asked to explore issues about knowing one’s heritage, immigration issues and being a part from one’s birth home, culture-specific festivals, symbolic meaning of ‘treasures’ and ‘gifts’ given one’s cultural heritage, and so forth. I hope that answered your question. =) So sorry if it was longer than expected.

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      • The class I teach is two and three year olds. I was trying to gauge by the pictures you included and I think it would work. I’ll see if my local bookstore has it.

        Thanks 🙂

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